It’s that time of year where I set off once again, resolve firm in place, willing myself on the path to fitness again. It’s January after all. This is the way things go even if it sometimes takes three odd weeks between intention and action fully kicking in.
Truth be told, 2017 was excellent as far as health, fitness and body positivity go. I started the year on a high. I felt fit, my vitamin D and B12 levels were back on track and I fell ill all of three times. I know without a shadow of doubt, that exercising played a major role in dragging me out of the funk that was 2016. As far as kickboxing goes, I was getting better, stronger and enjoying it more than I had since I started. Things were really peaking for me.
And then I moved cities. Losing access to my kickboxing teachers was easily one of the biggest losses of this year. Eight months in, I’m convinced I will never find a replacement or any fitness activity that will top the high kickboxing with them gave me.
The weeks in the transition to Bangalore saw erratic schedules, and in an attempt to bring some sanity and regularity, some grounding to a life that was otherwise up in the air, I signed up at a gym even before I signed a lease on a house to live in. As long as I have it my way, it’s not often that I slack off on the exercise front. I’m known to go to great lengths to juggle my schedule around in order to fit workouts in, even in the busiest of times.
Then, in August a serious fitness bug bit me. I put it down to the sudden proliferation of fitness gurus and trainers on Instagram posting relentlessly about their workouts, their diets and lifestyle. I was coasting along, nobody would even say I’m fat. I didn’t feel unhealthy. I was lifting heavier weights than I ever have. But suddenly I wanted to commit myself to a goal.
So far, I’d only ever focused on the bare minimum, which was to get in enough movement and burn excess energy and calories. I love food too much to consider dieting. It has never been on my mind. But I was also aware that coasting along would only get me that far. I suddenly wanted to see what was possible if I were to push myself. You know what they say, right? 70% of the fitness game happens in the kitchen, not at the gym. I knew that if I had to push myself and see real results (more muscle, better definition and power) I would need to look at what I was eating.
So I signed up for a six week training program with a trainer I followed on Instagram. I won’t go into details, but for the first time ever in my life I decided to watch what I eat. And it quite literally changed my life. First, the results were insane. The plan involved some major alterations in my daily intake. I wouldn’t call it a diet because the basics were very similar to my regular intake, just minus white rice and sugar completely, and a few other tweaks, putting the focus back on wholesome, home cooked, balanced food. That, combined with a daily workout plan. I saw myself shred fat I didn’t even know I had, I felt super energetic all the time, and I realised how eating right can really fuel my body to achieve impossible things. This was the difference I was curious to see. I was lifting harder, running father (I haven’t attempted long-distance running in five years now) and I felt incredibly light, I was sleeping better and my routine had fallen into a lovely rhythm.
In addition, I lost 5 kilos and 4% body fat in those 6 weeks. I touched my pre-wedding weight, a number I’d given up on. I dropped nearly two sizes, and fit into 28″ jeans — something that hasn’t happened since I was 18 or so.
And then I hit a major travelling spurt.
The thing with working with food restrictions is you can only manage it when you have full control over your meals. Which makes sticking to it outside of home nearly impossible. For the six weeks I was on the program I was extremely dedicated to making my own meals, planning outings such that I would eat before I left, and avoiding any sort of potential temptation. But that’s very hard to do when you’re travelling, especially on shoot, where we tend to eat what we get when we can get our hands on it, and when you’re staying with friends you don’t want to impose these rules on.
What’s more, I was on the road for nearly three weeks, and that’s when I hit the low. I guess after the high I was on — looking and feeling the leanest I have ever been — it had to happen at least once before the year ends. It started with all the travel in September and October. Skipped workouts, holiday feels and three weeks of living in hotels and subsisting on hotel food meant eating a crap ton of all that I’d successfully trimmed from my daily intake.
The other bitter truth about any fitness effort is that it takes barely any time to undo weeks and months of effort. The math is all lopsided. And so, I found myself at the beginning of December, staring at signs of swinging right back to where I was before I made all this phenomenal change.
Exasperation met frustration when winter hit and waking up in the morning to get to the gym became a Herculean task. Of course, I turned to emotional eating. Dessert every other day, sugary tea, alcohol more often than I cared for, lots of unhealthy carbs and erratic meal timings, with lots of frequent missed work outs.
It’s all related, in my case. The worse my eating gets the harder going to the gym gets. The worse I’m feeling in my head, the harder it is to get myself back to any sort of routine. Conversely, getting back to routine, and fitting in a strict fitness regimen is a sure-shot way for me to normalise and feel grounded again. The absence of it shows on everything from my skin to the way my pants fit to my energy levels and moods through the day.
And then there’s the second life-changing part of this experience. At the start of last year, I had touched an all time high as far as body positivity goes too. I never used to talk numbers or weight to begin with. My focus has always been health, strength and looking as fitness an exercise as a key tool in maintaining overall well being. I even remember telling P that something had switched in my head and I had entirely stopped worrying or thinking about that nagging belly roll that I was so desperate to get rid of. It was like suddenly I was more okay with me just the way I was, enjoying exercising for the energy it brought to my life, and eating healthy just the way I was. So, I’m not sure what triggered this sudden need for a goal, a number to hit. Didn’t help that the phenomenal and very, very obvious results (I’m talking pants dropping off my waist in mere weeks of changing my eating) really pushed me to keep going. When I fell off the bandwagon, I noticed that my exasperation was more with the way I looked and how my clothes fit, rather than just hitting the gym because it’s good for me, again.
This is really problematic for me. Because it took a lot of work to ditch the pursuit of slimness in favour of the pursuit of strength.
Not to discount any of the amazing health benefits eating better has given me — I’ve never looked at and consciously understood what my body can deal with, or bothered to eat in a way that facilitates what I want my body to do — but somewhere the pursuit of a random goal, pushed me over the edge and made me a bit size and shape obsessed.
I was quick to acknowledge it, and to realise what parts of this don’t fit with my personal goals or my personality (realistically acknowledging what I am and am not inherently not capable of). In an attempt to let it pass without being too hard on myself, I let it go and went a little easy. I went back to regular eating and just stuck to exercising everyday again. That’s really all it took to regain the rhythm. I found my stride in no time at all, and I was happy again, without having to worry about what I was putting in my mouth.
And then the holidays were upon us again. As of today, it’s been two weeks since I hit the gym because I’ve been away for nine out of fifteen days. Nine days of eating and drinking, no holds barred.
The plan was to resume some manageable, more realistic form of the fitness plan in January. But there is some part of this tussle I am still working through. I feel myself torn and not yet at peace with where I am. I’m questioning why some part of me chased after a number and got so drawn and consumed in the chase. If I wasn’t “big” to begin with, why did shrinking feel so good? What is big anyway? I’m asking myself what I am really after.
The difficult conclusion I’ve come to is that while I gained a tremendous amount of awareness about food science and eating right, the six week plan definitely put me way back as far as body positivity goes. This is not sitting well with me right now. I want to find a balance that satisfies my mind and body as much as it does my need to be fit — and I’m reworking what this fitness means to me. I want to be in a place where fitness doesn’t come at the cost of feeling positive and good about my body.
So, it’s meant asking myself what really am I after? Why is it this important? Is there something more to this than I care to admit or even be aware of?
I wasn’t kidding when I said this has been a year of incredible shedding. I shed a lot of kilos and body fat — duh — but I also shed a lot more. My preconceived notions I had about how I’d never be able to give up rice or sugar, for one. My ability to forget everything and eat what I want, when I want, convinced I’d burn it off when I hit the gym again. But I’ve also shed some of the comfort I had developed with my body, and the focus on making it work and respecting it for all it does for me, that I had so carefully inculcated in the last couple of years.
This year, I want to go back a bit and regain some balance. And that’s no piece of cake.